E-Mail Thursday – Who Can I E-Mail?



A very common question I get from people that want to start an email marketing program is who can I email? This is an excellent and important question because if you email the wrong people, you can get blocked by the ISPs.

I’ll begin this discussion with who you should NOT email to.

First, do not send email to anyone that has not explicitly requested to hear from you. It’s simple – if they are not expecting an email from you, don’t send one. Just because someone purchased something from your website does NOT mean they want to receive your emails. All it takes is a few SPAM complaints – over 1 in every 1000 sent – and you can get blocked.

Second, do not send email to addresses older than 6 months. If someone hasn’t heard from you in 6 months, don’t send them an email. It’s a widely accepted industry standard that email permission expires after 6 months. This happens for 2 reasons:

  1. If people do not hear from you soon after they opt-into your list, they will have likely forgotten that they opted in. At best they will ignore your email; at worst they will report you as SPAM.
  2. Older email addresses have the possibility of becoming inactive accounts. ISPs will tag these inactive accounts as “SPAM-traps”. If you happen to hit a number of SPAM-traps, the ISP will block you.

Being blocked by the ISPs is a very real risk. Know that if only 0.1% of your customers forget who you are or don’t want to hear from you, you can get blocked.

Email marketing needs to be permission-based, meaning that people need to give you permission to send them promotional emails. This is known as “opt-in”. There are several levels of opt-ins, each with their own pro’s and con’s.

The first level of opt-in is something known as the “opt-out”. This is essentially a pre-checked opt-in box that a customer needs to uncheck to convey that they don’t want to hear from you – therefore the “opt-out”. This method will net you the highest number of new subscribers; however it also runs the highest risk of unsubscribes and SPAM complaints since customers don’t always know or recollect that they gave you permission to email them.

The second level is the “opt-in”, where a customer needs to check a box to indicate that they are giving you permission to email them. Because this involves an action on the part of the consumer, it will result in fewer subscribers than the opt-out method but has a smaller risk of unsubscribes and SPAM complaints.

The third level is the “double opt-in” , also known as “confirmation required”. This method requires a consumer to check a box as well as confirm that they do indeed want to hear from you by replying to a confirmation email that is sent to them. Because this essentially requires the consumer to take 2 actions to get on your list, it will grow your list the most slowly but your list will grow with people who REALLY want to hear from you. Therefore not only will you drastically minimize your risk of unsubs and SPAM complaints, you also boost the receptiveness of your list.

Let’s say that you’ve been steadily collecting opt-in email addresses for some time, but you have not had a chance to email these subscribers in a few months. Or you have a list of customers but have not yet asked them for permission to send them promotional emails. How can you begin to safely email these people?

You can send them a re-introduction email.

A re-introduction email is a way to re-establish or establish permission. The key components include:

  1. A reminder of the relationship you have with them (for example “some time ago, you signed up for our newsletters” or “a few months ago, you purchased something from our website”)
  2. A statement announcing that you’d like to now begin communicating with them via email (example “we’re about to launch our newsletter program”). Ideally you’d also inform them of what information they can expect to receive via your emails and how often they will hear from you.
  3. A request for their action, either asking them to sign-up for your emails OR asking them to opt-out if they don’t want to hear from you in the future.

This last component requires an important decision on your part. You need to strike a balance between getting as many subscribers as possible with avoiding unsubscribes and SPAM complaints.